Each week, Irish Times Abroad meets an Irish person working in an interesting job overseas. This week, Bray woman Georgina Heffernan, who divides her time between Wicklow and Seville where she works for Capacity Ireland, a non-profit organisation working with young people as they set off on their working lives.
When did you leave Ireland?
When I was offered the opportunity to work and live in Seville in Spain as part of my role as communications manager with Capacity Ireland, I leapt at the chance. Living abroad is an opportunity to reinvent yourself that rarely exists outside the witness protection programme and it’s an opportunity to hit the reset button on your life. I felt that it was time for a change and the chance presented itself at just the right time.
Tell us about how life has gone so far
I studied in many places including at the Dublin Business School but I hadn't even completed college when I was approached to write a weekly fashion column in the Irish Independent and before I knew it, I was appearing regularly on TV shows such as Off the Rails, Open House and even NBC's Today Show as a guest fashion presenter. What followed was a 15-year career as a fashion and features writer and it was one of the most exciting (and exhausting) times of my life. But you know, sometimes, the job you wished for at 20, may actually feel like a noose around your neck at 40 and by 2008 I'd reached a point where I felt it was time for a change. So, I started looking at more fulfilling career options and was very lucky to be offered this role with Capacity Ireland. Capacity Ireland is a community based training provider offering training and work experience. It is a great fit for me. I love that, as an organisation, we're guiding younger people who are just setting out on their working lives.
I've been so impressed at the young Irish people. They're bright, ambitious and ready to take on a new challenge
What do you do in Seville?
In a nutshell, my role is to manage the digital PR, communications and all content for the brand across the board. I am also lucky enough to get the opportunity to work in areas such an event management on the more creative side of things.I’m going back to Spain in February and I’ve so fallen in love with Andalucia that I’m planning to make this more of a permanent move but, to start with, I’ll be dividing my time between my home in Wicklow and my life in Seville.
Capacity Ireland provides students with learning and employment opportunities that would not otherwise be available to them. Our Erasmus+ programme is funded via the European Union and the funding is administered by Léargas.The programme gives students and graduates the opportunity to secure paid work placements within the creative industries and community development sectors here in Seville.
What are the Irish graduates you work with like?
I’ve been so impressed at the quality of the young Irish people we get on our placements. They’re bright, ambitious and ready to take on a new challenge but also they have the ability to master new skills in creative ways. These are definitely good things to navigate this world that we are helping to create.
One of my best memories was hitting the dance floor with Kate Moss until the wee hours at a party in London'
What skills should they make sure they have to take with them overseas?
A willingness to learn and an openness to embrace a new culture is a key factor we look at when we’re recruiting new applicants. While academic education is good, but it’s not the only door for students and the mass participation in colleges and universities doesn’t necessarily guarantee high qualified output for the economy. We’re here to bridge the gap and our vocational training is open to everybody.
You were a fashion editor/stylist, weren’t you? What did you do?
When I was a fashion editor, my typical day could include anything from running around town preparing for red carpets events to working on TV specials and magazine shoots, not to mention juggling a couple of celebrity's clothes and accessories. And yes, it was exactly like the film The Devil Wears Prada.
Tell us who you crossed paths with when you were a stylist
Over the course of my career I worked on shoots with fashion icons such as Vivienne Westwood and Isabella Blow. And I also interviewed celebrities including Paris Hilton, Cindy Crawford, Matthew Williamson, Philip Treacy, John Rocha and Diane Von Furstenberg to name but a few. One of my best memories was hitting the dance floor with Kate Moss -until the wee hours at a party in London.
What does your work involve now?
It couldn't be more different! I'm working closely with young people who are doing their paid work placements in Seville and I particularly love working with the creative industries groups as it's such a diverse and interesting crowd. When I'm not doing that, I'm at home in my studio creating art which is how I unwind and relax. www.georginaheffernan-art.com
You won Dragon’s Den, didn’t you? Do you plan to stand for President of Ireland at any stage?
Not in the foreseeable future. However, if I could make a recommendation, I'd have to suggest Alison Cowzer (my Dragon's Den investor). She's one of the brilliant, compassionate and astute women I've ever had the pleasure of working with.Without a doubt, she's myrole model. She is an amazing woman who would - incidentally- make a great President. But no I did not meet any other Dragons.
The main reason Seville is so attractive, apart from the climate, is the cost of living is incredibly low
What are the opportunities like in Ireland?
While creativity is a cornerstone of our cultural identity, many complain that the creative industries in Ireland, have been undervalued with many small business owners struggling to earn a living as a creative in Ireland. In fact, Ireland also has one of the lowest percentages of people involved in creative industries in the EU.
How do salaries compare?
There’s quite a significant difference, but this has to be weighed and measured against the cost of living. In Ireland, for example, the average monthly wage after tax is € 2,199.81, whereas, in Spain, it’s € 1,278.85. However, you can rent a large apartment in the city centre for around € 650 a month and other costs such as food, entertainment and utilities are low.
Do the Irish fit in well Seville?
The Spanish people are very laid-back and friendly and there’s a large Irish community here. Spaniards are legendary for their enthusiasm for entertainment and almost every month there’s some kind of fiesta or festival going on. In Spain “downtime” is often spent with friends and family and many Sevillians “viven en la Calle” which mean they literally “live in the streets”. It’s an environment where the Irish in this city tend to thrive.
What is it like living there?
Spain equals one word - sunshine - to most sun-deprived Irish visitors and with blue skies, a burning bright sun, days flooded with light, fresh air and natural surroundings - it’s a great place to live and work. The main reason that Seville is so attractive, apart from the climate, is that the cost of living is incredibly low that your money stretches much further. The city itself is beautiful too.
Do you have any plans?
I’m planning to return to Spain in February and hope to live either in Seville or Frigiliana for part of the year or full time. I’m also working towards my first solo art exhibition as well as running a new e-commerce business, focused around self-care, which I’m launching soon.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career abroad? How might they go about it?
For most people, you can be at a disadvantage if they don't speak the language but exploring options such as teaching Tefl are a good ways to travel and earn an income at the same time. The Erasmus+ mobility placements are also a great entree into working and living in a new country and it's good to have things like your accommodation and workplace organised for you in advance. We offer three-month work placements with host employers in Seville which are fullypaid flights, travel insurance, accommodation and bills and € 120 per week for living costs. www.capacityireland.ie/erasmus/
Are there any other Irish people in your work/social circles overseas?
My social circle is Seville is international and I’ve friends from Poland, the UK Brazil and Seville itself. I’m in touch with a community of Irish people through the Erasmus programme and thanks to the beauty of the internet, there’s plenty of groups of expats who meet up via different sites.
What is it like living in Seville in terms of accommodation, transport, social life and so on? What are the costs like compared to Ireland?
The difference in price is hard to fathom and once I returned to Ireland I was sick to my stomach at the prices for everything here. It’s been said before, but you really are left with that feeling that you are being ripped off.
What do you think your future holds?
Change and personal growth. Lots of opportunity to live life in a way where I can achieve work/life balance while working with an orginisation that’s making a real difference on exciting new projects. Also having lots of time to paint and explore my creative pursuits.
Is there anything you miss about living and working in Ireland?
Friends and family.